Tennessee-Great Smoky Mountains

About Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I first heard the details about Dennis Martin in a radio interview with David Paulides as he discussed his book Missing 411 - Eastern United States. As an outdoorsman, I found it very hard to believe there was an unknown force in the wilderness that was capable of taking people from right under the nose of others who were only a few feet away.

In 1969, Dennis Martin was almost seven years old. He was hiking and camping with his family on the Appalachian Trail inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They started their day at Russell Field and hiked approximately two miles to Spence Field. While relaxing near a shelter, Dennis' father watched Dennis duck behind a bush while playing hide and seek with a group of other children. At 4:30 pm, when Dennis did not come out from his hiding place, his father got up to look for him. Dennis was gone.

The search for Dennis began within five minutes of his disappearance. His grandfather ran down the rugged five mile trail to park headquarters to alert authorities. By 8:30 PM, a full scale search was underway for Dennis. During the next few weeks and months, thousands of people would scour the entire area looking for Dennis. Helicopters were brought in, base camps were set up, military personnel and Green Berets were used, and the FBI was monitoring the search.

After months of searching, the only possible sign of Dennis that was ever reported was a shoe print. Years later, after the search ended, there was an unconfirmed sighting of a child's skeleton. Officially, this is where the story ends.

However, at approximately 5:30 PM on the day of the disappearance, about an hour after Dennis went missing, the Key family was in another area of the park about eight miles away called Cades Cove. They were hiking along the Rowans River when they heard what was described as a loud, unearthly scream coming from the woods. When they turned to look, they saw what was described by the press as an "unkept man", "wild-man", "bear", or "man in a bear suit" darting between the trees trying to hide from the Key family. What the press did not report but was later confirmed by the Key family, was that the "bear-man" was carrying something over its shoulder that looked like a child.

Even more puzzling, the FBI did not believe this had anything to do with Dennis even though the Green Berets then closed down the entire area and started their own search completely separate from the ongoing search for Dennis. The Martin family was informed of the Key family sighting after reading it in the newspaper during the search for Dennis. In an effort to prove it might be connected, Dennis' father and a park ranger made the trip on foot from Spence Field to the Cades Cove area in time to make it a possibility.

The following text you are about to read is my own speculation. It is not in any official report nor was it written by David Paulides in any of his books. It is purely my own conclusion about what might have happened to Dennis. After you read this section, please take a look at the maps button on the tour and make your own conclusion.

I believe Dennis was taken from Spence Field by someone or something that was much faster, quieter, and stronger than an average human. The Martin family had camped the previous night at Russell Field. This is the location I believe the abductor first spotted Dennis and stalked him and the others to Spence Field.

After having hiked the entire round trip myself, what truly sticks with me is the journey Dennis' grandfather had to make back to Cades Cove. The hiking trails to Spence Field are some of the most challenging in the park. There are mud, loose rocks, and running water all along various parts of the trail. In the spring, I can only describe parts of it as trying to walk up a water slide. Keep in mind that Dennis' grandfather made the five mile hike downhill over these features by himself. What could have been going through his mind? What would you do? Would you hurry as fast as you could to the ranger station and risk injury on the trail or would you move slowly and try to hear your grandson crying for help on the way down? It must have been Hell.

When Dennis was taken, I believe the abductor took one of two exit paths.

    Exit Path 1 would have been a direction away from Spence Field, downhill to the northeast along or even inside the West Prong River. It was along this direct path that the shoe print was located and farther away, the reported but unconfirmed child's skeleton near the Big Hollow River.

    Exit Path 2 would have been a direction back to the Russell Field area and then along or inside the Rowans River, downhill to the Cades Cove area where the Key family was hiking.

It's interesting to note that both of these paths are along or inside streams running off the mountains. If you read David's books, you'll see this is not unique to this case. Is it possible that whatever is doing this knows it won't leave tracks by walking in the water?

So what could have done this that explains the possible evidence available? Again, this is my own speculation.

    1. EX MILITARY - Fort Bragg is about 150 miles due east of Spence Field. This is where the elite Green Berets are trained. Is it possible that during the late 1960s, a military trained individual decided to venture into the wilderness and leave society? Would this explain the involvement of the Green Berets searching independently?

    2. EX CIVILIAN - One park ranger described the possibility that Dennis may have been taken by what he called a "wild-man". He said that regular men had been known to live off the land in the park and in one instance even attacked a park ranger.

    3. UNKNOWN HOMINID - Whatever took Dennis had the ability to plan ahead, move quickly, quietly, and leave no trace of its being there. There was no noise, no sign of struggle, no blood, no torn clothing, no animal scat, and no confirmed remains found of any kind. You would find these things if it was a bear or large cat. If it wasn't a man, what was it?

David Paulides' Book - Missing 411 Eastern United States:

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